The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to protect us from cyberattack and terrorism. Instead, it is trying to get in my pants, in my pocket, and in my brain.
DHS just shut down Rentboy.com, a gay escort website, and seized $1.4 million (€1.25 million) of its money. Why? Because it views male escorts like me as part of a ‘global criminal enterprise’.
Is it necessary, or fair, for DHS to throw a lot of gay men and the escorts they hire under the bus? Does this help fight the war on terror?
An emerging global coalition, led by Amnesty International, is pushing to de-criminalize prostitution, to make it safer and healthier. We need DHS to focus on real threats – from ISIS to homegrown terrorists killings Marines in Tennessee and churchgoers in South Carolina. Why are they targeting gay men, instead?
In the complaint they used to arrest seven Rentboy.com employees, who face five years in jail, the DHS cited The Travel Act – a 1961 law that makes it illegal to use the US mail or travel to engage in crimes like prostitution.
They are using a Beatnik-era law to go after millennial adults trying to earn an income. Federal laws that go back over a century and that were enacted in part to protect women and children from sexual exploitation should not be used to attack gay men.
Their complaint is replete with words like ‘foreskin’ and ‘penis size’ and ‘shaving pubic hair’. To prove he’s a criminal, is DHS actually going to investigate what’s under the gym shorts of a muscular college student named in the complaint, who uses the money he earns escorting to pay for his college education? Sorry, but only his doctor gets to do that.
To prove this is a ‘global criminal enterprise’, DHS has to worry about more than just ‘penis size’. They may have to prove there was an ‘intent’ to commit a crime.
That may explain why the complaint, in the words of The New York Times, ‘is so saturated with sexually explicit details, it’s hard not to interpret it as an indictment of gay men as being sexually promiscuous.’ Success in court requires DHS to indict ‘gay think’.
Do we really need the DHS to be our thought police, and expose and attack what gay men think? This isn’t George Orwell’s 1984.
Are we really more secure because DHS seized Rentboy’s computers and now knows the names, credit card information, and most intimate thoughts of tens of thousands of gay men?
The closest you get to ‘victims’ here are guys used to being ridiculed because they’re a little over the hill. Even if you’re in your 20s, and haven’t experienced bigotry that equated gay sexuality with sex crime, consider this as a direct attack on gay men.
Do we really need the government to label what many gay men choose to spend their money on as a ‘global criminal enterprise?’
You know what feels criminal to me? The DHS’s stunning and smug lack of compassion. The complaint named zero victims, and made being an aging gay sound like a crime. Do we really want to go back there?
The DHS is also jumping into Rentboy.com’s pocket. They seized $1.4 million (€1.25 million) of its money. Not much, for a federal agency. But absolutely critical for Rentboy to mount a defense.
Let’s stop the Department of Homeland Security’s misguided attempt to reach – overreach, in fact – into gay men’s pants, pockets, and brains. It’s the last thing gay men, or America, needs.
It’s not fair, and groups like the ACLU and Lambda Legal say it will actually make a lot of people less safe, by moving escorts and their clients back into the dark.
We are in the 21st century, not 1961. We have privacy in our bedroom. We have marriage equality. There is an internet. And a global coalition is emerging to promote the decriminalization of prostitution.
We can only hope DHS’s action drives that necessary debate.
Steven Kesslar has been a leading male escort since 2000 and a community activist since 1984. He is an independent reporter.